16 July 2012 The Netherlands [Wim Altink] Are we managing time or is time managing us? Are we in command of our schedule of activities or are the duties pushing and commanding us?
In this short essay I will share five practical insights on how we as pastors and leaders can avoid being slaves of our diary and the expectations of others.
1. Determine our personal tax
This sounds too good to be true. It is government which determines our taxes! In setting our own tax, I refer to the amount of work we can handle considering our own physical, mental and spiritual strength. Some of us can work 80-90 hours a week for a considerably long time without wearing out. Others know that their workload capacity lies at a maximum of 50 hours a week. A pastor in the Netherlands, who takes care of 4 churches in a large district, has set for himself the limit of 50 hours. He is faithful in not going over his own tax. He is able to continue through muddy waters and difficult times in some of the churches, because of this. Before that (crossing the 50 hours tax frequently) he had severe health problems.
2. Determine our personal schedule
Make sure that every week you have scheduled a day off. This is ‘holy’ time, do not squander it. Defend it with all your might and if there is any reason to work on that day, make sure you have created another day off. When it comes to daily appointments it is essential not to overbook your own diary. Open space in our schedules is like wind on a sunny Spring morning. We need to avoid only sitting in meetings, dialogues and conferences. It is healthy to – now and then – have only one appointment a day. The rest of the day you will enjoy time to walk around in the office and talk with the cashier, and the Bible correspondence coordinator. You will have time to handle that unexpected phone call. You will have time to read that article which has been staring you in the face for some time.
3. Determine our professional priorities
Working in a team (as leaders in an office), or as pastors within the setting of church board members, it is essential to set your specific task and share this with the rest of your team. As leaders we like to do many things at the same time and tend to forget that we are part of team in which we find colleagues willing to do what we cannot do. I try to focus on three priorities in my work. I did this as a local pastor, and now also as a president. At the moment these are for me: (1) fostering a healthy climate concerning unity within diversity; (2) developing a strong stewardship concept; (3) stimulate leadership development.
4. Determine the quality of our working time
Our responsibilities tend to be far reaching and ‘heavy.’ The Dutch tradition of the ‘sacred’ mid-morning break, is not just to have time to drink but also to socialize. Many issues are beginning to be resolved in a relaxed atmosphere. Seeking humour in our work will make things lighter and more pleasant. Meeting with fellow workers around a dining table makes good progress and if you enjoy meeting people in their work setting, why not go there and visit them, instead of having them coming to you? When we go out and meet fellow believers where they are, it gives an important signal to those we meet and maybe, we can enjoy managing by walking around.
5. Determine a sense of working-time satisfaction
Our work is never finished and by the time we think we can quit, we realise that this e-mail needs to be written today, and that article I promised to hand in is too close to a deadline to ignore. With our own lap-tops we always take the office with us wherever we go. This is very handy and practical but we never close the door of the office, so to say. Managing time means that we plan our writing and speaking appointments in such a way that we avoid too much time pressure and when we have finished a certain project, we should be able to close the door behind us. I have promised myself, after finishing writing this essay, to sit in the sun for 10 minutes. The weather is just gorgeous.
Managing time is not a goal in itself, it is an instrument to create a balance in our lives. Managing time will help us to be in command of our lives and not to be governed by meetings and the expectations of others. Travelling around my two most essential working instruments are the Bible and my diary. To which a fellow pastor said: “and in fact my diary is most important. I can always buy a new Bible, if I lose it, but I can never replace my diary.” Well, that is true, isn’t it? When we have determined our do’s and don’ts and when we have put that in our diaries, let us be faithful to our own plan. As the old saying has it: “If we fail to plan, we plan to fail.”
At the end of the day, when we, falling more often than we like to admit, are managing our time, we are doing more than just that. Because we have reached a reasonable level of balance between work and private life, we are showing to others that we have found our fulfilment in doing our different tasks. We feel content being ministers, nurses, doctors, teachers and in enjoying our calling, we are planting seeds for young people to hear the same calling. They are attracted by people who feel satisfied because there is a kind of harmony between our work load and our working strength. I hope that we can be such people. Managing time will surely help us in that direction.
By Wim Altink, MDiv, President, Netherlands Union Conference
Used with permission from Leadership Development Newsletter – March 2009